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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State> One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century > Yalpanam N. Veeramani Iyer

One Hundred Tamils
of the 20th Century

Yalpanam N. Veeramani Iyer

Nominated by Radha Nagaratnam,USA 15 April 2001

"I would like to nominate Yalpanam N. Veeramani Iyer to the Music section. Unfortunately I am only familiar with two of his compositions in Carnatic music. They are "Ennadi Pechhu Sakhiye'' and "Karpagavalli'' (made famous by Pithu Kuli Murgadas). I am sure there are many other such wonderful compositions. I hope you will be able to find them and include them in the write up about this wonderful Tamil Eelam citizen."

N. Vivekanandarajah on Sri Veeramani Iyer in Sri Lanka
Sunday Times - 30 November 2003

A human dynamo who enriched religious and cultural values

It is with profound sorrow that I write a tribute to Veeramani Iyer who passed away on October 8, leaving a void, which can never be filled. With the demise of Kalapooshanam Bremma Sri Veeramani Iyer, the Tamil community has lost a renowned scholar, at a crucial time in the history of the Tamils.

He was a human dynamo who enriched the educational, cultural and religious values of our society. He possessed sterling qualities and was a gentleman to his fingertips. He charmed all of us by his simplicity and by the very paternal way in which he treated us.

Veeramani Iyer was born on October 15, 1931. A person of great wisdom is seldom found. Such a person does not appear everywhere. The family of the late Nadarajah Iyer was the lucky one. He was educated at Hindu College, Manipay, where he excelled in his studies and won the medal for the best student in 1947.

After completing the Senior School Certificate, he left for India to pursue his studies and there got attracted to music, drama and dance. He studied at the feet of well-known personalities like Rukmani Arundel (Bharatha Natyam) M.D. Ramanathan (Music) and Papa Nasam Sivam (Sahithya Guru). Later he returned to Jaffna and joined the staff of his alma mater, Manipay Hindu College where he produced talented dramatists and musicians.

After serving the alma mater for a few years he was appointed a lecturer of Fine Arts at the Kopay Teachers' Training School. He served there for 33 years, during which period he was able to produce music and dancing teachers and dramatists who are today serving in schools throughout Sri Lanka.

He was a man of many parts - musician, poet, dramatist, dancer and composer. He composed poetry, hymns and natya nadagamas. His magnificent hymns with their super lyrics, sweet music and local setting captivated the hearts of all.

He made an effort to evolve an indigenous form of Tamil music. He did not follow western melodies, but made use of oriental tunes, Carnatic ragas and folk music for his compositions. He was an accomplished musician whose fame spread internationally. Veeramani Iyer is no more, but memories of him will always remain.
Om Shanthi, Om Shanthi, Om Shanthi.

Professor Karthigesu Sivathamby, October 2003 in the NorthEastern Herald

A man who strived much to help Sri Lanka earn recognition in Carnatic music passed away last week in Jaffna, eliciting condolences even from neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

N. Veeramani Iyer of Inuvil, Jaffna, was the celebrated writer/composer of the extremely popular devotional song 'Katpahavalli,' sung in honour of the presiding goddess at Kapalisuwarar temple, Mylapore, Chennai. This song and the way its musical composition is written gained for Veeramani Iyer praise from both the vidwat musicians of Tamil Nadu as well as the hundreds of thousands of the devotees of the temple.

Veeramani Iyer was a student of the great composer Papanesam Siva who is known both for his virtuosity in music and the religiosity of the compositions he wrote. Veeramani Iyer's claim to undying fame rests on the brilliance and virtuosity he has shown in composing songs in the 72 mela kartha ragas. In the carnatic musical tradition it is held that the basic raga system consists of 72 ragas, and many thousands of variant ragas arise out of each of these mela kartha ragas. It calls for great proficiency and skill to write such music. In such diverse modes, without a thorough knowledge of the musicology of the carnatic tradition, it is not possible to venture far in that field.

The late Veeramani Iyer has written songs on almost all the important shrines of Jaffna such as the Nallur Murugan temple, Maviddapuram Murugan temple and the Pararajasegara Pillair temple at Inuvil.

More importantly, he has written a number of pathams used in the repertoire of Baratha Naddium. Pathams are expressions of love towards the Godhead. There will be no important Baratha Naddiam teacher of Jaffna who has not, at one time or the other sought the assistance of Veeramani Iyer to get a new pathams. Writing a patham calls for immense dexterity in marrying the bhava, (emotion), with laya (time/beat), giving enough opportunity for the dancer to demonstrate her mastery of angika abinaya (bodily movements) and footwork. The dancer has to maintain a balance between the character she depicts and herself, the performer. Veeramani Iyer was good at writing pathams.

More frequently sought was his assistance to structure the entire nattiya nadagam (dance dramas). Quite often, Veeramani Iyer himself wrote the libretto. It should also be noted that he has written Oonjel and Pallandu (swing song) versions of nearly all the songs of the temples in the Jaffna Peninsula, especially those Valikamam area.

I have the great opportunity of moving with him fairly closely in the period 1984-1992/93 when I was called upon to look after the Ramanathan Academy of Fine Arts. He did not have the required paper qualifications, which government institutions like universities demand, but at the same time we could not think of anyone else teaching final year dance students - especially on the pedagogy of dancing. We employed him as a visiting instructor and the students were thankful to the administration for arranging those classes.

Veeramani Iyer was a figure usually seen at Inuvil and the Jaffna town areas. He used to ride a bicycle, while doing his 'rounds.' He was a man accessible to all. If there was a tragic flaw in his character, it was his openness and willingness to discuss the intricacies of carnatic music with each and every one, who claimed to know something of the subject. He did not maintain that professional distance which is so characteristic of the music masters. The tragedy was that many who knew much less than he maintained a studied aloofness, while this man, whose knowledge was enormous, befriended everyone indiscriminately.

I should confess that despite knowing his proficiency and experience, I did not realise the eminence of his mela kartha compositions until I met an official of the Chennai Music Academy who wanted to know from me details about Veeramani Iyer. He was inquiring whether Veeramani Iyer would be in a position to be a guest of the Chennai Music Academy at least for three months to discuss with eminent musicians and critics the compositions he had written. I was aghast. This was in late 1999 I think. The message was passed to me but I don't think he could visit Chennai. But he remained feted at Kumbakonam, which lies on the Kaveri delta and known for its deep and intimate association with carnatic music.

Veeramani Iyer today has become a man of the past with legendary achievement. But the more important question is: what has the State and its institutions done for a man of such eminence? He was not even a Kalasoori, the highest that the Sri Lanka state could bestow on any Sri Lankan Tamil artiste. It is not only a question of not going beyond Kalasoori, but also one of not going beyond a few persons and groups who always manage to be in the eyes of those who matter at the cultural establishments of this country, and block others from gaining recognition. I wonder whether Veeramani Iyer was given a pension or any assistance even from the local Arts Council.

It is high time that the institutions that oversee so-called cultural affairs of this country device an objective method, something that is not coloured by personal likes and dislikes, to help the public to get to know of the musical treasures of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. It is not only Veeramani Iyer, we also had the famous Nadaraja Iyer who brought out single handedly the first volume of an Encyclopaedia on Carnatic Music which won the praise of great masters like Semnarangudi Srinivasa Iyer.

With all humility I would like to state that not even practicing musicians of today know there was such man as Veeramani Iyer. I can understand the state and its cultural affairs establishments not honouring such men like Veeramani Iyer or Nadaraja Iyer. But cannot the Ministry of Hindu Cultural Affairs do something about it? Here again the picture is very gloomy. They dilute the granting of honours to such a point that many conscientious artistes do not want to be seen with some of the official choices.

The Cultural Ministry of the North Eastern Provincial Council (NEPC) has its one and only arts festival. It started with a big bang with honours lavished and praises sung, but now the endeavour is tapering to a sad and sorry whimper. At least the Ministry of Hindu Cultural affairs in Colombo or the Ministry of Cultural of the NEPC should take immediate steps to publish those unpublished works of Veeramani Iyer. We will be doing Sri Lanka proud by such a publication.

As for the universities, I do not think there is any research coming out, either from the Ramanathan Academy or Vipulanantha Academy. The only advancement, if at all, is that diploma courses have now been made degree courses. But the question of the creation and dissemination of the knowledge of music that goes with teaching in any university has not proceeded beyond the preliminary stage. That is understandable because the courses taught there are intended to train only musicians and dancers, not musicologists nor choreographers.

Because of all the hustle and bustle by a few to keep themselves at the forefront of things, questions such as the musical tradition of the Tamils and Muslims of Sri Lanka, especially Muslims of the East, are being neglected if not completely ignored. About a year ago, a researcher from an American university who was working on Sri Lankan music chanced to meet me. When I asked her whether she had gone to the Akkarapattu-Sammanthurai area for an exposure to the folk songs of the Muslims in that region, the music of the koothu in Batticaloa, the Nadaswaram tradition of Jaffna and work that is being done in various other schools of music, the lady told me that for any work on carnatic music she has plans to go to Chennai. She went on to say there was nothing worth knowing about carnatic music in this country. After all, much of it was a copy of what is found in Madras.

I was shocked, and I am not yet out of the shock. However, I was able to persuade her to visit Batticaloa and Akkarapattu; when she came back, despite having been there only a few days, she at least took at more than an hour to tell me about the richness of that music.

The question is simply this: have we done justice by musicologists such as Veeramani Iyer, Nadaraja Iyer; vocalists like Shanmugaratnam, Param Thillairajah and Kuruparan; nadeswara players like N. K. Pathmanathan, Balakrishann and Panchapakesan, and the all time great thavil player Thedchanamoorthy.

We could recompense by committing to writing the music of these maestros, or creating a worthwhile institution devoted to music, headed by people who know what they speak about. It is true that we cannot compete with Chennai, but we have had great artistes and music scholars who have commanded attention and sometimes recognition from the music establishments in Chennai. Let us wait for that day, and more, for a person who will help us regain such glory.

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